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Shuttered Tampa Bay entertainment venues may soon see relief

Once called Save Our Stages, the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program has been slow to roll out.
Last spring, the Tampa Theatre went dark due to the coronavirus pandemic and illuminated their marquee to show gratitude to essential workers and those on the front lines.
Last spring, the Tampa Theatre went dark due to the coronavirus pandemic and illuminated their marquee to show gratitude to essential workers and those on the front lines. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Feb. 1
Updated Feb. 1

It took a months-long campaign for entertainment venue operators to get a promise of targeted federal relief during the coronavirus pandemic. Getting the money itself has taken even longer.

But the U.S. Small Business Administration is close to finalizing details on how venues, movie theaters, concert promoters and others in the entertainment industry can collect their share of $15 billion in aid.

“The SBA’s not, at the moment, accepting applications,” said Victoria Guerrero, director of the administration’s South Florida district, which includes much of Tampa Bay. “They’re still going through the process on how that’s going to look like, where folks will need to apply.”

John Bell, the president and CEO of the Tampa Theatre, said he expected applications to come through “within a couple of weeks.”

“Since it’s a brand-new program, it’s understandable that there’s a little bit of delay in getting everything together, so that when the applications do open up, we won’t hit snags,” Bell said. “We’ve done as much prep as we can, knowing what they’re going to be looking for in the way of numbers and documentation. But we still don’t know when that’s going to be.”

Related: Concerts return to Tampa Bay as struggling venues await government relief

The grants are a reaction to the government’s initial coronavirus relief package last spring, which delivered relief to some venues, while others argued it didn’t go far enough. That led to a campaign called Save Our Stages, designed to funnel more money directly toward workers in the live entertainment industry, which largely shut down during the pandemic.

Months of lobbying got Save Our Stages included in December’s latest $900 billion stimulus and relief package under a new name: The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. Grants of up to 45 percent of their gross 2019 revenue, capped at $10 million, would be available not only to venue operators, but theatrical producers, performing arts organizations, movie houses, museums, zoos, aquariums, agents and promoters.

This week, the government outlined more detailed guidance about who can apply for what, and for what purpose the grants can be used. The guidance said only that the administration is “working expeditiously” to get applications ready, but it has created of a rough timeline of when certain applicants will see money.

During the first 14 days of the program, grants will first be open to businesses that lost 90 percent of their revenue from 2019. For the next 14 days, it’ll be businesses that lost 70 percent. After that, businesses that lost 25 percent of their funding. On April 1, supplemental funds will be made available to recipients from the first two 14-day periods whose funding remains down at least 70 percent in early 2021.

Other businesses haven’t had to wait this long for additional relief. The new stimulus package included an additional $284 billion in funding for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, which opened to small businesses two weeks ago. But venues eligible for Shuttered Venue grants were specifically excluded from applying for those loans.

Related: More PPP loans are coming. Here's how your business can get a second one.

The latest round of Paycheck Protection Program loans has rolled out much faster than the venue grants. From Jan. 11 to Jan. 24, the administration processed more than 400,000 loans worth more than $35 billion, Guerrero said. More than 65 percent were for $50,000 or less, while the average loan size was $87,000. She said the government has forgiven more than 1.1 million loans worth more than $100 billion, and made payments on nearly 85 percent of them.

Last spring, the Tampa Theatre received a loan worth $260,900. Bell said that based on calculations from past revenues and last year’s losses, they should be eligible for a grant worth between $800,000 to $900,000. He’s glad the Small Business Administration is taking its time to get this rollout right.

“I recall when the first PPP loan program came out in the spring of last year, as we put that thing together, it was like playing a game, but you didn’t know what the rules were until halftime,” he said. “Hopefully we can avoid that here.”

But he does hope the funding comes soon.

“Suffice it to say, being completely closed is not a good business model,” he said. “We’ve been able to survive the close this long simply because we had a couple of really stellar years prior to this. But we’re burning through our reserves at an alarming rate.”